Police Take Wrong Man to Jail

by Drew Mackie

 In an unusual end to typical post-Thanksgiving dinner
activities, 78-year-old Santa Barbara resident David Wass spent the
night in jail. In Wass’s view, he merely emerged from his apartment
to investigate a gunshot, then ended up detained under suspicion of
being the shooter. Now, Wass is preparing a lawsuit against the
police department for false arrest. Police spokesperson Lt. Paul
McCaffrey, however, claims the arresting officers acted in
accordance with proper police procedure. “We treated this matter
very seriously,” McCaffrey said. “A lot of work went into getting
to the truth of this matter.”

At approximately 9 p.m. on November 23, Wass was at his home on
Oceano Avenue when he heard a discussion among neighbors escalate
into an argument. The exchange ended with a gunshot, and Wass said
he decided to check to see if someone had been seriously injured.
“I became very concerned that there could be somebody dying at the
curb,” he said. Upon leaving his apartment, however, Wass was
ordered to stop — twice. “I didn’t stop at the first sound because
I didn’t know who I might be facing when I turned around,” he said.
The party approaching consisted of four police officers, who
questioned Wass. What Wass did not initially realize — and what
police reports would eventually reveal — is that Wass matched the
description of the man who actually had fired a gunshot. “I told
them they were making a mistake,” he said. “And I told them ‘And
you guys want a raise?’”

Wass — a longtime activist in the Santa Barbara Green Party who
may be most familiar as the host of the political show “The Next
Step,” on public access Channel 17 — then spent the night in jail.
In his words, the experience was dehumanizing and a lesson in the
poor conditions citizens in jail must face. “They treat you as
though you don’t have any rights,” he said. “Just a bag of blood
and bones.” Wass charged that he was taken to jail without reason,
since the police who arrested him already had a warrant to search
his apartment when they returned after their initial meeting with
him. He also said the police detained him in an unnecessarily rough
manner: “They handcuffed me as I had seen so many times in the
movies, [though] it hurts a lot more in real time,” he said.
Finally, Wass said he spent his time in jail not knowing what he
was charged with and unable to contact help, as he was not
permitted a phone call until 5 a.m. and he found the phone system
difficult to use.

Police reports, however, describe Wass’s behavior as
“uncooperative,” “belligerent,” and indicative of a suspect. After
witnesses in the shooting incident said they thought Wass had fired
the shot, police obtained a warrant to search Wass’s apartment and
arrested Wass. As the investigation continued, police contacted
Michael Robert Ganan, another resident of the complex, who after
some questioning admitted to threatening the men having the loud,
expletive-laced conversation, racking a live shot from his rifle,
and then firing a second shot outside his apartment. However,
because he fired into a planter, the crime is not a felony but a
misdemeanor, and Ganan was not arrested. Until officers concluded
this, McCaffrey said they had to treat the crime as a felony.
“That’s no small thing, to have a guy walking around and taking
potshots with a high-powered rifle,” McCaffrey said. The officer’s
narratives of the event do not detail the hostility Wass alleges,
McCaffrey said.

Upon Ganan’s admission, Wass was released from jail, just as he
was being fitted for inmate garb. Wass contacted attorney Joe Allen
and began discussing the terms of a lawsuit. He has not yet decided
what damages he may seek.


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